Gareth Armstrong and Moya O'Connell. Photo by Lydia Pawelak.
While watching The Tempest at the Saidye Bronfman Centre for the Arts, my companion and I were treated to the sight of such footwear gems as Gonzalo in white buckled Keds, Ariel padding about in Sorel boot linings and Prospero bellowing in, well, what looked like two loofahs. It was a long trek up to the Saidye—especially since it was raining hard on opening night—but my companion and I, true Tempest-philes, risked ruining our own (quite lovely) footwear on the undrained streets of Côte St. Catherine to check out the show.
The Tempest, Shakespeare’s last play, requires a tremendous suspension of disbelief from its audience. The stage must, at turns, be the site of a massive storm, a circuitous deserted island and a battleground for fairies and monsters. For these, the Saidye Bronfman production offered up a toy pirate ship tossed about on a blue sheet, a sandbox and the aforementioned bootless fairy lurking behind movable screens. Some of these devices worked better than others. The toy ship was an eloquent way to start—really, the tempest is so immense that the only way to portray it on stage is to make it conversely tiny. The sandbox was less successful. This raised stage within the larger stage was meant to remind us that the play takes place on an “island,” but for the most part it was simply frustrating. The actors tiptoed around the sandbox’s perimeter to suggest the water surrounding the island, but ultimately all this tiptoeing cramped the opportunities for blocking, making the actors look like giants in a dollhouse.
But despite the money behind this show (it was clearly a well-funded project), my friend and I never fully relaxed into the production. Maybe it was the wet feet. There were some highlights, though: Gareth Potter (Ferdinand), a handsome Matt Damon look-alike with a strong, strange presence and some interesting dance moves; Andrew Shaver (Tinculo), a goofy clown with an uncanny Jim Carrey aspect; and Tristan D. Lalla (Caliban). Gareth Armstrong’s Prospero was good, very good really—as one would expect from a Royal Shakespeare alum. Also of note was the eighty-two-year-old Douglas Campbell, wearer of the white Keds, member of the Order of Canada and winner of a Governor General’s Award. As Gonzalo, Campbell’s booming voice and rotund presence could not be ignored. Moya O’Connell’s Miranda, however, I found both irritating and disappointing. She whimpered and cried from her very first line and never fulfilled the immense comic potential of a heroine who has never before seen a man other than her father. (Apologies to her loyal boyfriend who was seated beside me. How did I know who he was, you ask? Well, he was kissing her picture in the program before the show started.) While the tempestuous lighting was really quite cool, the video screens used to enhance the rest of the “magic” were just too 1995. Forgive us, boyfriend of Miranda, who glared when we didn’t stand for the ovation: this show was good, worth seeing—worth wet shoes even—but for us not deserving of a standing ovation.
The Tempest plays at the Saidye Bronfman Centre for the Arts through December 6.